Pizza: Free. Advice: Priceless.

Every Thursday, I stand outside a locked door and wait for someone to let me in. I think I hate it more than anything else I’ve had to do since coming to New York (and that’s saying a lot; this morning I took all the subway stairs in one embarrassing, painful step).

Why put myself through it? The quick answer is, “Free food!” Because, let’s face it, I’ll do a lot for free food. The more honest answer is complicated. It’s all tied up with scary words like “networking” and “career opportunities,” but I guess it comes down to this: people who made it to the top are telling their stories and answering questions, and I want to know what they’re saying.

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So every Thursday, I wait outside that locked door for someone to let me in. I walk into a small conference room crowded with summer interns all hoping these few months will give them the boost they need to start climbing that ladder. I queue for free pizza, and I find a seat as near the door as possible, and then I listen to a professional talk about publishing, or editing, or whatever they do, and I try to hear something relevant.

A couple weeks ago, in one of those crowded intern luncheons, Will Schwalbe said something I love: “You can’t make money doing anything cynically.”

This came in answer my question about striking a balance between doing what you like and doing what pays. And his answer has stuck with me. I see it as presenting an ultimatum: either you do something, or you don’t. But if you decide to do it, do it the right way.

Don’t be mercenary. Don’t do things because you think they’ll pay off. There are so many reasons to do things—you should be able to come up with something more creative than money. Do it for the experience. Do it for the challenge. Do it because someone has to, and you’re willing to be that responsible person.

Or don’t do it.

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If you have to do it, find a way to value it. There’s a 300-name spreadsheet I’m filling in at work. I have the choice of how to do it, and if I’m doing it cynically, I’m missing out. Some things don’t slap you upside the face with how meaningful they are; you have to dig, imagine, get outside your box.

Experience, as I’ve mentioned, is a good motivator for me. The story I’ll tell about it later often makes up for what I’m doing at the moment. Or maybe it’s just the satisfaction of a job well done: 300 names in neatly formatted columns? Sign me up! Maybe it’s the perspective I gain along the way—I’m seeing a broad comparison of psych professors and schools across the country in a way I would never have known otherwise, and I’m getting insight into what the sales departments deal with.

So no, walking across the park to wait for someone to let me into a crowded room full of strangers is not my favourite thing. But I do it every week. Why? Because I think I’ll make valuable connections that will pay off in the future? I did the first day. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that this is not about the pay rate it might secure me later on. This is about learning about something I love, from someone who’s loved it longer, surrounded by other people who love it too.

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…but the free pizza doesn’t hurt.

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5 Rules (because it’s social media, not personal media)

I hate self promotion.

My version of self promotion is, “Hey, um…so…I did this thing…It’s kinda cool—I mean, I think it’s kinda cool, y’know, but you might not…but if you wanted…maybe…you could sorta…take a look at it some time? If you want? I mean, no pressure. I’ll just…leave it here…in case you want to see it…”

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Unfortunately, I’ve been informed that my version of self promotion is not effective. And that if I intend to ever publish anything novel-y, I need to get on top of this whole platform-building thing.

So this week I did something supremely scary: I made a Twitter. And a Facebook page.

I struggle with social media. I hardcore judge certain types of posts—the whiney ones, the cryptic ones, the grammatically challenged ones. At the same time, I know my natural tendency is to use social media for venting frustration or posting photos I later can’t remember the purpose of.

So, in order to avoid being That Person, I’ve made myself five rules.

1. No fishing allowed.
If you can’t tell what I’m talking about by reading my post, I’m doing it wrong. If I’m hoping for a slew of “But you’re beautiful!” or “Oh no! What’s wrong?!” comments, I’m doing it wrong. Posting is about giving, not getting. Giving entertainment. Giving insight. Giving information. It’s not bait to catch personal affirmation or snag extra attention.

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2. No complaining…unless it’s funny.
Hard truth: nobody cares about your lack of sleep, grouchy boss, or bruised knee. But if you phrase your complaint in words that make them laugh, they’re okay with you whining a little.

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For example, I sometimes always complain about the weather.

 3. Beware the “share” button.
When you like stuff, your name shows up in a list of people who like that stuff. No big deal. When you share it, it shows up on your feed forever. I remind myself to think before I click. If it’s an opinion, I want to be willing to stand behind it, to explain why I feel it’s both valid and worth sharing with the world. If it’s humour, I want to be okay with my diverse group of friends and family knowing that I think it’s funny–meaning I have to consider whether it’s offensive, hurtful, or unnecessarily crass.

4. Please don’t feed the animals.
You can watch them fight to the death in the comment boxes, but don’t get involved. You will say angry things you regret. You will look like an idiot. You will offend someone. This isn’t to say I never stand up for what I believe, but I choose my battles, and I don’t jump into petty arguments.

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5. If you wouldn’t do it in person…
Social interactions work because we follow some basic rules of courtesy. Social media interactions should be the same. If I wouldn’t do it in person, I don’t do it online. Would I smack you upside the head? No? Then I shouldn’t send that crushing comment. If it’s still social, it still demands respect.

Am I saying I do everything right? Absolutely not.

Am I saying you should follow all my rules? Absolutely not.

Am I suggesting you think about making up your own rules? …maybe, yeah.

See, here’s the thing about social media: yes, it’s my profile. It’s my page. It’s my blog. But that doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want.

It’s called social media, not personal media, and that means I take a moment to think before I hit that button.

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